Hey, I just heard about a great restaurant. Let's Google a review of it.
Sound familiar? This is a great way to take the risk (and adventure) out of day-to-day decisions. But, are we creating a cult of verification, where everything must be rated, ranked and reviewed? Do we really need ratings, league table rankings and reviews to make a simple decision? Apparently so. Trip Advisor, for example, contains over 75 million reviews of travel-related services and gets 60 million page views per month, or about 2 million per day!
Only a small fraction of users write reviews. But, what motivates them? For some it is their way to have their say, or to keep commerce honest. The Internet as truth serum. It turns out, however, that many reviewers are paid evangelists, singing the praise of a place to eat or stay... for a small fee.
Susan Scott and Wanda Orlikowski have been studying the way that on-line reviews and ratings actually change behaviours in the hospitality industry. Hoteliers and restauranteurs begin their day checking their reviews and ratings. Behaviour modification you might say. But, is popularity always a proxy for quality? Recall that historically good ideas are not always popular, and popular ideas are not always good.
Everyone loves a Top 10 List. Recently, the Academy of Management published a ranked list of the 'top' 384 management scholars. Of course, no mention was made of the quality of ideas these people had contributed. Rather, citations and web page views were used as proxy for 'impact.' In the end, these astute authors did acknowledge that, 'Our results indicate that top performers in terms of impact inside the Academy do not necessarily have a similar impact outside the Academy' (Aguinis et al, 2012, p.129). If you ever suspected that too many business school academics are more interested in vacuous narcissism than making organizations work better, now you have verification. Or, at least you have read a review of a review of it.
Good news. I am currently ranked in the top third of all humans alive, according to my new website: www.PersonAdvisor, where we can all find out exactly where we stand. :-)
Update 5 May 2013 - New York Times article on how following restaurant ratings (on Yelp) not only can be wrong, but following the crowd diminishes our own individual judgments of and preferences for what is good or not.